Things Fall Apart by Lara
Summary: Angel and Cordelia cross paths, and all things fall apart.
Spoilers: Rain Of Fire, Season Four.
Notes: The last in my little RoF "Pain is Love" trilogy.
pale hand ran over the silk scarves on the foldout table, feeling the soft fabric on her fingertips. She held the
white plastic bag lightly, the secondhand clothes forcing her hand to put
a better grip on the handles. She removed her hand from the material
to feel her pocket for the thick wad of cash in it. Her last good
pair of pure gold earrings and the sterling silver bracelet Angel
gave her got her three hundred dollars at the local pawnshop.
It was enough to last her a month if she saved wisely.
She estimated the costs of living in her head. A single bedroom in a slightly sleazy guy's apartment- fifty bucks a week. Special needs, including toothpaste, toothbrush, shampoo, and other things- forty dollars for the month. Food- thirty-five dollars.
After all that, she had twenty-five dollars to her name.
Twenty of that would be used to keep the sleazy man from touching her in any way.
Cordelia let out a shaky sigh. It wasn't worth it. She only got three hundred dollars for a pair of earrings and a bracelet that probably cost more than that whole store. It was obviously some sort of antique. It must've cost Angel a fortune. It was such an expensive gift for her birthday. An "appreciation" gift, he said.
In an instant, the bracelet meant a lot more than Angel's appreciation. She suddenly recalled his nervousness. His anxious smile. The stuttering. It could've been the coma that caused all of those things, but now...she doubted it.
She sighed again. Her shoulders suddenly felt heavy. Her shoulders felt heavy and her wrist felt naked. Why did she have to sell it? Out of all the things to sell- why that? Why not sell her shirt? Her shoes? Anything but *that*.
She was so stupid.
The large person Cordelia bumped into interrupted her train of thought. She stumbled to the side with the force of the slam, her items spilling onto the ground. She immediately dropped to her knees, shoving the clothes back into the bag. "Sorry..." She mumbled.
The Seer gradually looked up and stared at that familiar face. His eyes were a mixture of shock, concern, and confusion. "Hi." A long silence followed, with Cordelia on her knees and Angel standing over her with a hard stare.
Angel slowly set his bag on the floor, sinking to one knee to help her. "I didn't see you...didn't recognize-" He held a ragged brown sweater in his hand, gazing at the girl. "Your hair."
She smiled nervously, combing a hand through it. "Yeah." She waited for him to continue. He didn't. He just stared. His eyes could've burned a hole in her head if it were possible. "I- do you like it?"
He didn't answer her, handing over the sweater. Another silence followed. He felt uncomfortable. He felt as if she were hovering over him, although she was more than a foot away. All the feelings came rushing back. The anger. The hurt. The fear. The love. The hate. The pain.
More than anything, the pain.
Cordelia's smile wavered. "I-I just thought...the blonde was so...I needed a change."
His face remained blank. "It's nice."
The smile faded completely, and she lowered her gaze to the ground. Not exactly the reaction she was hoping for in him. She continued to gather her clothes. "Where are you going so late at- early for you."
Angel hesitated, and then gestured at the black bag. "Herbs. Spells. I'm the Errand Man, obviously." He handed her the last of the clothes. "Who's this for?"
He stared at her, unsure if he heard her correctly. "Yours?" She nodded, her eyes still on the ground. "Why- you had clothes at the hotel. And with Con..." He trailed off, not even wanting to say his own son's name.
"You told me to leave the hotel. Get out. You don't need me. Remember?"
"It was only a day ago." Angel muttered, climbing to his feet. By habit, he offered his hand to Cordelia. He caught his action instantly but it was too late. She stared up at him, unsure. After a long, tense moment, she timidly lifted her hand to grasp his. Just as her hand was about to touch his, he moved his hand forward, so she was touching the sleeve of his jacket. He merely raised her up with his arm before pulling it back to his side.
Cordelia kept her gaze on the cement, bending over and grabbing her bag. "Thanks."
"Yeah." His picked up his bag. "I have to go."
"Me too." Angel was already down the block.
She stared at the space he had just occupied, before turning to his retreating back. "You can't kill it!" He stopped. Listening. "That thing. You can't. You won't."
He turned his head slightly. "I *can*."
"No. Connor tried...he's stronger than you-" She could actually feel Angel tense up. "He couldn't fight..."
"When did he fight the Beast."
A slight shiver ran down her body. The Beast. "It attacked me..." Her neck started to ache at the thought of it. Luckily, the redness had gone down drastically. "It...it almost killed him...you're going to need help."
"My help almost got killed. I don't need it." He started to walk again.
She needed to try again. "Let *me* help!"
The vampire stopped and spun around this time. "Why did you dye your hair?" He demanded abruptly.
She stared at him in slight shock. It came out of nowhere. "What- I told you. I wanted a change."
"And the whole higher being, amnesia-kick, seeing Angelus, living with my son deal wasn't enough of a change?"
He didn't say sleeping. He didn't say fucking.
She could deal with that.
A grin appeared on her face. A small one. "What can I say...I'm a walking soap opera."
She could've sworn she saw a smile play on his lips. It was gone. "Me too." He started his walk once more. He stopped yet again, his eyes on the stretch of sidewalk in front of him. "We need to know what you saw in your vision. And what happened when you and my son confronted him."
"We didn't conf-"
"I don't care." Her mouth closed. He sighed heavily. This has to be some sort of a mistake. He could feel it. "Hurry up."
Cordelia hesitated for a mere moment before grasping her bag and running to catch up with the rapidly receding Angel. She finally reached his side, taking two steps for every long stride he took. Her bag hit her thigh hard with each stride and also produced a slight thump. The vampire glanced at her out of the corner of his eye, and then returned his gaze to the front of him.
They walked in complete silence, on opposite ends of the sidewalk. Angel was nearly in the street, while Cordelia was as close to the buildings as she could get. It was as if an invisible barrier separated them.
A barrier named Connor.
They reached the hotel in a matter of minutes. The building suddenly looked much bigger and darker to the Seer. Its walls stretched on while the windows glared angrily at her. It almost looked devilish.
She was scared of what was inside.
Angel stopped, halfway up the stone path. "Are you coming or not?" He asked, a tinge of annoyance in his voice. She nodded meekly and followed. He threw open the front doors, not bothering to hold it open for Cordelia as he walked in. "Guess what I found." He monotonously told the team, seated on the couches.
"A miracle?" Gunn replied. "A holier than *US* miracle?"
"Far from it."
Cordelia winced in slight pain at Angel's sharp words before stepping from behind him. "Hi." She whispered.
Lorne offered the girl the first kind thing she had seen from the group in a long while. A smile. "Hey, Brown Eyes. Welcome back to the fold-" He blinked. "With your new hair."
She grinned slightly. "It's good to be-"
"She's not staying for long." Angel interrupted, throwing the bag of herbs onto the counter. He stripped off his jacket. "She's giving us some information, then she's leaving." He had shut off his conscious- and his heart- back on the sidewalk. He couldn't handle her. Not now.
She nodded shortly. "Yeah. I..." She trailed off, not wanting to give them any reason to pity her. As if they would. "Connor and I ran into the Beast. Beat us up pretty bad."
Wesley looked up, a slight expression of shock on his face. "Where?"
"The alley behind Caritas. Where Connor was born."
"Oh my..." The Watcher mumbled, shuffling through papers. "That might help us..." He handed Gunn a pen, and the man began to search through a map of Los Angeles.
Cordelia walked over to the counter where Angel was pulling objects from the bag. She set down her own. "Hey..." She said quietly. "I just want to thank you...for not- for letting me- thank you."
She sighed shakily, the abruptly familiar guilt rising up again. "I'm sorry." She whispered. "I never meant to-"
"NO." His voice came out louder and sharper than he had intended, and the group glanced in their direction. "No." He said in a lower voice. "Not now."
"Then WHEN, Angel?" She suddenly demanded. He gave her a glare that was only reserved for the demons he would fight. She brushed it off. "You don't talk- you never let me in and I don't-" Angel." He returned to his task, disregarding her. She grabbed his arm and pulled. "Hey- I'm talking to you!"
He jerked his arm away. "DON'T even-"
"HEY!" Gunn shouted. He was promptly ignored as the two glared at each other.
Fred tapped Wesley lightly. "Aren't we going to do something?"
"No, no..." He mumbled. "I want to see this..."
"Don't even what, Angel?" Cordelia snapped, her hurt getting the best of her. Hide it with bitchiness. Queen C.
"Don't evenů" He trailed off. "Don't even." They stared at each other, almost eye to eye. Suddenly- "Why."
A mixture of pain and anger passed Angel's eyes. "You know what." He chuckled slightly at her incensed expression. Bitterly. "You're not stupid, Cordelia. At least I don't think...I could be wrong after all these years...I mean, you've done some stupid things..."
"Yes?" He held a look of downright disparagement.
"Because I *wanted* to."
She regretted it the second she said it.
It was a lie.
But she wanted to hurt him for hurting her in a span of the five minutes they were in the hotel.
And now he hurt.
The pain disappeared completely from Angel's eyes and was replaced by anger. Raw, fiery anger. He slammed the last bag of herbs down and grabbed Cordelia's arm, dragging her towards the office. She struggled against his too tight hold, digging her heels into the floor.
Gunn stood. "Yo- Angel! Chill, man!" Wesley grabbed the man's arm and yanked him back into his seat. "If he hurts her-"
"He won't." Wesley replied calmly, watching the two across the lobby. "Not physically."
The vampire yanked the Seer into the office, throwing her in and slamming the door behind him. He paced for a moment, nearly shaking with rage. "I could kill you..."
She pinned herself against the desk, keeping a distance from the man. "Then do it." He stopped, staring at her. He let out short laugh before shaking his head and pacing again. "I'm sorry."
"I heard you the last goddamn time, Cordelia." He muttered tersely, stopping to face her. "How dare you- outside- letting them know-"
"I don't care- I'm sorry-"
"For me or for yourself, Cordelia?" A reasonable question. She didn't answer. "I thought so."
Her fingers tapped on the wood, her eyes on the floor. Angel's eyes rested on her wrist. Her bare wrist. He quickly looked away. "You're angry."
"Oh- what gave you that idea, Cordelia?"
She gave him a look of dismay. "WHY do you keep saying my name like that?!"
He held his hands up in mock defense. "I can't say your name, Cordelia? I had NO idea it would annoy you so to hear your name...I thought you liked hearing your own name..."
Anger filled her, and she struggled to control it. "Could you STOP talking to me like I'm below you?"
"Not me, Cordelia. Connor, maybe..."
Cordelia rushed across the office and slapped Angel hard across the face. Hard enough to make the sound of the smack fill the room. His head whipped to the right and stayed there, eyes closed. His fists clenched tightly, reminding himself that she was a woman. She was Cordelia. He slowly turned and met her stare. He looked into her hazel eyes.
She stood her ground. "How dare you talk to me like that..." She muttered, directly in his face. She nearly shook with rage. "How dare you-"
"How dare YOU." He replied curtly, his voice barely above a whisper. "How dare you tell me you love me and then do what you did...it- I- I can't even begin to figure out what possible explanation you could have-"
Her eyes narrowed. "What about you?!" He simply stared at her. "Huh- thought I was all comatose up in Sparkle Land? I SAW what you did with that Electro-Slut." A look of genuine surprise flashed past Angel's eyes. A self-satisfied smirk appeared on her face. "Yeah- thought I didn't see? What possible explanation could you have?"
He stayed silent for a moment, guilt running through him. He was stupid. Of course she would've seen. Why wouldn't she... "Because *I* wanted to."
She backed away from him, her head lowering. Those annoying tears were threatening to come up again. Karma sucked. "God..."
"It's not the same, Cordelia." Angel muttered. "I had a KISS. It meant NOTHING."
"Tell Sparky that."
"Goddammit- You- you- and my SON-"
"It's in the past."
"You- you don't even care, do you? You- you told me you loved me and-"
"Oh- and YOU couldn't tell me, Angel?! How about giving me something to work with- I'm practically giving you my goddamn heart and you give me NOTHING-"
"Oh, come on, all you did-"
"I don't understand how you of all people can be upset-"
"Me of all people?! I can't believe-"
"You act like you've never hurt me-"
"YOU BROKE MY HEART."
His voice dripped with desperation and anguish. Silence filled the office, as well as the rest of the hotel. The two didn't notice the rest of Angel Investigations staring through the office window from their seats in complete shock.
Angel started to pace again, a shaky hand reaching up and rubbing his weary eyes.
Cordelia leaned against the desk yet again, breathing deeply.
"You broke my heart." He repeated, his voice a whisper.
"Do you care?"
She looked up at him, and saw the pure pain etched on his face. Her face started to crumbled as she remembered every single hurtful thing that had done to each other- intentionally or not. None of it matched that moment. She shook her head. "I can't do this- I have to go, Angel..." She left the office and made a dash for the door.
Angel raced after her, quickly catching up. "No- you can't-" He got a hold of her arm, and she immediately attempted to break free. Wesley, Fred, Gunn, and Lorne watched in shock, afraid to move. He gripped tighter. "We NEED to do this- you WANTED to do this- you can't-"
"No- Angel- let go- please-" He swung her around so they were face to face. "Angel!"
"Let go of her!"
Out of nowhere, Connor appeared and tried to tear Angel off of Cordelia's arm. His father instantaneously punched him across the face. The boy hit the wall hard, his face filled with shock.
Angel let go of Cordelia, glaring at his stricken son. A slight rush of pleasure ran through his body. It quickly disappeared. "Try anything and I will put you down..." He muttered, his voice a growl. The silence in the hotel was deafening. He straightened up, ignoring the combination of nausea and sadness rushing through him. The boy inched towards Angel in obvious attack mode. "TRY it and I will put YOU down, Connor. Think I was mad before? Try me..."
Connor stopped, evidently thinking of what Angel said. Finally, his hands dropped. But the glare remained. "Don't you touch her."
"I was touching her way before you came into the picture, boy. I have the right."
Cordelia rubbed her arm, her eyes on the floor. "Connor...it's okay. Really. We were just- he wasn't hurting me."
"You don't deserve her." Connor snapped, paying no attention to Cordelia. "She came here for you and you want to hurt her. I won't let you."
"I would never hurt her." Angel replied quietly. "Never."
"You were GOING to. I'll kill you-"
Angel stared at his son calmly, the resentment vanishing. There was only sadness left. "Connor- I know what you did." Astonishment flashed past Connor's eyes, and it was gone. The boy stood taller, his head raised in shielding defiance. A short laugh escaped the vampire's lips, and he shook his head. "God- you're so stupid...I don't-"
"Angel." The Seer shook, crossing her arms to cover it as much as she could. "Angel, please. Don't."
He turned towards her and for a second, it was like it was before. She was the voice of reason, and he calmed immediately. He stared at her and then sighed, defeated. "I-I don't know what to do..."
She straightened up, pushing her hair back. "We work."
"We're not friends." Angel said abruptly. "Acquaintances. That's all."
The Seer's face crumbled. She immediately caught herself and lifted her head high, no emotion whatsoever on her face. "Fine."
Angel nodded slowly, his eyes hitting the floor. The pain was welling up again. He couldn't stop it. "Yeah. Grab a book." He marched over to the team, sitting between Fred and Lorne. He picked up a book, flipping through it. His eyes rose, surveying his still shocked friends. "Get to work." They slowly returned to their files.
Cordelia looked at Connor for a second, and then walked over to the group. She stepped over the piles of books and then stopped, unsure of where to sit. She caught Angel looking up at her out of the corner of his eye. She sighed shakily, and then sat next to Gunn.
Far away from Angel.
Angel Investigations sat silently, researching and working.
Connor watched them; the pained look evident on his face. He stared at his father, then Cordelia. They were as stiff as two people could be. His eyes stayed on Cordelia. She didn't want him. She never wanted him. His own father didn't want him. The boy lowered his head, rare tears welling in his eyes. He left the hotel quickly, the door slamming behind him.
Silence filled the hotel yet again.
Angel skimmed through the notes Wesley had taken. The pain tore into him deep. She was sitting far away from him, but he could still smell her. He could smell the soap she had used to shower with. She had cleaned herself for him. His chin started to tremble as too many thoughts filled his head. Pain. Hate. Love. Fear. He quickly stood, throwing the pad onto the table. It landed with a soft plop on the wood. He silently walked to the office.
Silence filled the hotel yet again.
Cordelia watched Angel leave, and then turned back to the book in her hands. The group paid no attention to her, immersed in the research they were doing. She didn't care. All she cared about was making everything normal again. She failed. Gunn and Fred nearly ignored each other, their faces cold. Lorne sat, anxiously sipping his drink. Wesley acted indifferent to it all. And Angel was never going to forgive her. He was going to hate her forever. Nothing would change that. She was still alone. She set the book down on her lap, hugging herself tightly. She stared blankly at the pages, a sigh escaping her lips.
Silence filled the hotel.
It was killing them.